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from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with david o. russell. he is up for two academy awards this year for his latest, "silver linings playbook." he wrote and directed the project, which is based in part on his experience dealing with his son. it is up for best picture. a conversation with filmmaker david o. russell, coming up right now. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s.
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as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: david o. russell was up for two oscars next month. it is often hard to quantify the role of director, but getting a good performance of the test is certainly at the top of the list. for the first time since 1981, all four principal actors in this movie are up for an oscar.
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quite an achievement. so much to get to tonight, but first, here are some scenes from "silver linings playbook." >> what is this i just hear about you getting out from the loony bin? i thought you said you had it together, you were solid? >> i am solid. >> i just want us to be friends. >> i was having sex with everybody in the office. >> everybody? how many you were there? >> don't let tiffany get you in trouble. >> i can only do if i have a partner. >> is this the girl that you wrote about? >> you wrote about me? >> we are friends. >> went live reaches out with a moment like this, it is a sin if you don't reach back. tavis: i am told you wrote this,
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but put it on the shelf and then obviously came back to it. that leads to the obvious question, what did "the fighter " give you that aided and abetted the success of "silver linings playbook." >> the fighter was about a family struggling to overcome and fighting each other sometimes. i went back and rewrote the script, which i had written for my son, initially. my son has a mood disorder. that is why five years ago by raft the book because i thought this is something that could make him -- i wanted a story that would make him feel like he is part of the world, not like he is separate. i wanted to feel that he could be the story. he loves movies.
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tavis: i want to come back to the script in more detail in the second. this is my word and you are welcome to replace it if you so choose, but how fortunate, how blessed the field to work in a business and obviously to have the gift and skill and talent to write something for your son, but something that also speaks to people in this country and around the globe? there are a lot of people who have children with mood disorder, bipolar disorder, and they are not in a position to be able to write something and put it on film, and call people like bradley cooper and robert deniro to be part of it, that speaks to a condition that so many others are dealing with? how blessed and fortunate do you feel to be able to do that? >> i feel profoundly blessed. i feel it is a great privilege to make any motion picture. i wanted to make this one before "the fighter." i had to do it in god's time,
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but that had many silver linings in it for me. it made the film better. five years ago, an actress named jennifer lawrence was in high school. she is the perfect actress to play the part of this troubled, this very soulful girl who helps heal bradley cooper, and his troubled herself. bradley cooper, i did not know he was ready to play a soulful role. i met him in the last five years. he has his own emotional journey, and he is ready to put it on screen. robert de niro had not sat down and discuss people we know personally who has faced this challenge. when i showed him the screenplay, we were talking, and i was shocked to discover that he was crying. he is such a private man. it was a very intense moment at his house. i just sat there watching. i thought he was having
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allergies. so many people have come forward, as you said. now veterans have come forward to discuss the film because they are saying that is me. veterans come home, and i might not be bipolar, but if they have been through war, with ptsd, with head injuries, their families have a handful when they come home. the whole theme of the movie is it relieves -- remove the stigma. the story is to remove the stigma, and they can feel human. i feel blessed to be in the motion picture business. every time i make a movie, i feel what a blessing to make a movie, especially if it is from the heart. tavis: my reading of this is everybody in this movie has issues.
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your son may be wrestling with bipolar, but everybody in the movie has their own issues at some point. that is by design, i take it? >> i do believe that everybody has issues one way or another. that was part of the beautiful part of the story, to see that his father is not that i like him. some very high functioning people have what could be characterized as ocd behavior but they don't necessarily get diagnosed. his father is a bookmaker, robert deniro, and he is very particular about how he handles that. some people might say a logical or strange, but he is passionate about it. at least because he functions and makes a dollar for the home, people do not give him a hard time about it. this son who is stigmatized says
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you are not that different from me. jennifer's character is different. people who have a lot of grief can fall apart, they don't know what to do. she lost her way, and she acted out. in this story, this was in the novel, she started to bury her feelings and her pain. her back story is that she started to have affairs with many people at her workplace, to the point where it became a crisis, and she left her job and had to move back home and reexamine her life. those are three people with issues in the picture. john ortiz is a beautiful actor, and chris tucker was his friend
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from the hospital. he brings so much to the picture because every time he walks on stream -- onscreen, he is telling you the little law that you can find on the internet. when someone has a plea bargain with the court over an episode, what are you going to do? you could face a prison term or you could do your time in a hospital and then come home. it tells you a lot about -- he tells you that bradley is a good guy and that they are good guys and they are moving on to their third chance in their lives. >> and she mentioned chris tucker -- since you mentioned chris tucker, we are friends. we have known each other for many years. i guess i can say this now.
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i don't know that we have ever had deep conversations about this, but i was getting concerned for him at one point in his career. it cannot do 18 "rush hours." i want to see him do some other stuff and stretch himself and expand in terms of the roles he is playing. i was beyond delighted when i saw he was in this. he is a gifted actor, funny when he wants to be, but he has a dramatic flair when he wants to do that. how did chris tucker in up in this project? >> i am always looking for ways to surprise audiences. i felt that any adams playing a tough woman in "the fighter" was a surprise. here is an undervalued asset. i think this guy could come back
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and have an all-star season. harvey weinstein is very passionate about chris. he said here is this enormous, charismatic man. let's put him in an overall that is real and grounded. with that magic that chris has behind his eyes, any time he walks on screen. i thought it was very cool idea and i kept talking to him for a very long time. is playing a supporting character, and i thought that was great. >> he did a great supporting role in jackie brown. he is just a beautiful human being. i have come to love the man. i got to know him over the course of making the film. i love dancing with him.
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i just copy his moves. [laughter] tavis: there is a guy named michael jackson who he got most of that from. >> he is such a great person. i would love to work with him again. tavis: so you have a son who is obviously managing this every day. why choose to put this out as a screenplay, as opposed to not putting it out? everybody who has somebody close to them who is struggling with something like this, that is a personal decision. it is a personal battle, private affair. obviously i am glad you did, and the nominations and award speak to the fact that people appreciate it, but you could have left that as a private
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affair. >> as a writer and director, you have to trust that the best work sometimes comes from your own heart. it was such a big part of my life and my son's life and his mother's life, too. you go through quite an injured trying to hold together the family, trying to help somebody. my son is older now, but when they turn to you at the age of 9 or t in and they are not feeling too good about life. there is nothing worse for a parent when that happens. you would do anything for that child, to help them believe in life. i know that he loves movies. that is one of the things he has always grab onto. he loves stories. it helps them understand life. i thought if he could have a movie where the hero has struggles that he has, that would inspire him.
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people always ask, how was your son feel about the movie? i said to him, people you have not really told me. what should i say to them? he said tell them that i feel the film was inspiring. it is a novel that the director acquired and offered to me five years ago. that is when i really said -- you are quite right, i did not how to tackle this personal material. the book was written by a guy who is local to philadelphia and had worked in hospitals and had a great heart for it. sidney pollack ask me how i am going to get the tone of it right, because it is so painful and disturbing. i said because i know it from the inside.
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i am going to respect and love everybody in the film. no one is going to be treated disrespectfully. >> did you find that exercise to be more difficult than you thought, easier than you thought, or write about where you thought? that notion of trying to strike the right balance, the right tone. you want to celebrate the humanity of the character. you don't want people crying from the beginning to the end. it is not a comedy. how difficult was it for you in retrospect? >> it is probably the toughest job i ever had as a filmmaker. there are so many different ways you could get it wrong. had to rewrite it probably over 20 times. now it just feels really dark. now we are getting a little silly. you have to go back and find the
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right -- each actor has to do that. bradley cooper crafted his character. they did it many different ways. they would do it heavier and lighter, and then in the edit room, we would have a choice. how heavy or dark do we want to go each time, so the audience can feel the substance and the motion and also did the human released when the characters get some release. tavis: i am sure you have been asked this question a thousand times. i am trying to figure out a different way to phrase it. what do you make of all of the fact that the four principal actors are all nominated for an academy award? that is pretty special. set your modesty aside for a second. what do you make of that? >> my job as the director is to
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make the actors feel safe and let them do the best work that comes from their heart, give up a piece of themselves. even if they denied, the best actors give up a piece of themselves, a piece of their soul. when that would fight for the film as much as i would, and they would do anything for the film. we shot the film in a very short time. they never went back to any trailer. they stated my house. i think our movie is about performance and personality and personal humanity. it is not about anything but emotion and humanity. for them to be acknowledged and the world to me. i called everyone the night before it was announced. i called everyone in the cast and said it is a very competitive year, and i just want to say right now i feel blessed to have made the movie, and i want to thank you.
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it was a way of letting it go. i could go to sleep and say it is ok. i was shocked and overwhelmed the next day when everyone got nominated. tavis: all these actors are special, hence the nominations. robert deniro is clearly in a different category. what will you take away, if you and he would never work together again, you made some magic here. what will you take away from this experience, having had this moment with mr. dinero? >> is just such a blessing to know the man. he is a very quiet, soulful man. he really was our teacher on the set. he set the tone of seriousness. he loved his craft. the man has not been nominated
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in over 20 something years. he has not won in over 30 years. he still loves every bit of his work. he brings every bit of focus to it, and we all learn from that. whether he is just running in from the dancing in the third act, he would go outside with chris tucker and do pushups and start talking to chris tucker in character. we all learned from that. he taught us that just being present, even if your silent, can indicate so much emotion. a director should never make the mistake of underestimating that. i love the tone he set on the set, and i will carry that with me for the rest of my life. tavis: is it possible that once you get the kind of a claim that you have, and everything you do
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is getting some sort of adelaide or nomination, is it possible that that gets in the way, doesn't put a level of pressure on you? does it change the way you make decisions? is there another side to it? >> the last time i was on your show, which was 2004, i would say that was the beginning of a very difficult time for me in my life and as a filmmaker. i would say the gift of that time for me, of struggling during the next few years until "the fighter" and this film, is that it made me a humbler person and brought me closer to the characters in my films to struggle. it made me know them better and more intimately. it may be just respect opportunity to do the work. i think at an earlier phase of
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my career, if i had been nominated, it would not have had a good effect on me. it would have made me think i was more important or something. now i know that you can never be that important. it is -- just a humble and do the work. that is the only way you'll ever do good work is if you stay humble. every time i am working i turn around and say, are you sure you are thinking about this clearly? nothing should ever change that. i met a filmmaker recently and he said he hopes in the future the wanted to not have to do previews. that means you must discuss with audiences and the studio how people feel about the film. maybe this is too long, they did not like this character. i think to not have final cut in
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some ways is the kiss of death. you must never be pressured or self important about your work. every thought, i may not agree with all of them, but a lot of them will make it a better movie. look at robert deniro. he is one of our greatest actors. we had 200 extras and we had to stand around all day. how can you do this, you have to stay focused. he said look at all of them, they have to do it. he taught us that you never stop being present, therefore you don't know what is going to happen. two of the most exciting things that happened in the film in his performance were unexpected. one is where he is sitting on the edge of the bed talking to his son, played by bradley
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cooper. it was on the last take when i said i think we have it, and he said let's do it one more time. he does started crying, and i did not know what was happening. my son burned the right to audition -- earned the right to be in the film. he plays the young boy who rings the doorbell. the first take, mr. deniro is in his pajamas, protecting his son from this nosy person. he shoves my son and start yelling at him, and my son starts nat -- starts laughing nervously.
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deniro taught us after a few takes, that is ok, that is what a 17-year-old kid, if an angry man in his pajamas starts coming at him, he would laugh. he made it part of the scene. that was just masterful. his voice taught me to write. i love the rhythm of his voice. tavis: his name is david o. russell. his movie is "silver linings playbook." david, good luck in advance. >> thank you, tavis. tavis: that is our show for tonight. thanks for watching. until next time, keep the faith.
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>> he wrote about you. >> what did he say? >> he said you were nice. he said you had a mouth on you. >> it was just a very general letter. >> she is my friend with an f, for friend. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with martha raditz on the new foreign policy challenges facing the president. that is next time. we will see you then. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do.
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walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. >> be more.
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